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Archive for the ‘Comic Book Movies’ Category

We lost Stan Lee this week at the age of 95.  Many people first became aware of him from his cameo’s in Marvel movies, but his impact on popular culture goes far beyond that:  For better or worse, make your own mind up; without Stan Lee we probably wouldn’t be seeing all the comic book movies that are dominating cinema screens.  Like many people I first became aware of him from the animated shows of the 1980’s.  These animated show were the start of a push to develop Marvel properties into other media.  Initial results were mixed at best but eventually led to what we now know as the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe). Stan Lee 1922 2018

But it all started before that, growing up Lee born (Stanley Martin Lieber) loved swashbuckling movies, and dreamt of becoming a novelist.  One of his earliest jobs as a writer came writing obituaries before at the age of 17 a family connection got him a job as an assistant at Timely Comics, the precursor Marvel Comics was at the time a new division of a pulp magazine.

Lee’s first job actually writing in a comic book came with the text fillers for Captain America Comics #3 in 1941.  This was the first time he used the pseudonym Stan Lee, which later became his legal name.  Before long he moved from fillers to writing the backup feature, “‘Headline’ Hunter, Foreign Correspondent”.

His early creations Jack Frost, Father Time, and Destroyer may not be household names now, but things were about to change.  At the age of just 19 Lee was made interim editor, a position that quickly became permanent, one that he remained in for just over thirty years before becoming Publisher.  After the war, were Lee served in first the Signal Corps, and then the Training Film Division, he formed a partnership with artist Jack Kirby, together they created a few characters you may have heard of: the X-Men, Iron Man, Thor, the Hulk, Black Panther, Ant-Man, and the Fantastic Four. x men fantastic four thor iron man black panther hulk ant man

He also created Daredevil with Bill Everett. And with Steve Ditko with, Doctor Strange and his (and Marvel’s most successful character) Spider-Man. Doctor Strange Daredevil Spider-man

As significant as the characters they created, in 1963 gathered them together along with some older character, most notably Captain America to create the  Avengers, a rival to DC’s Justice League (originally Justice League of America). With various reboots, relaunches, spin-offs, alternate universes, and ever changing line-up, The Avengers have been a constant fixture within the comic book world.     The Avengers

In 1981 Lee moved from New York to California in 1981 to develop Marvel’s movie and TV, while the live action of these were forgettable at best, the cartoons introduced a whole new generation to Marvel.  They also provided the springboard of what was to come.  The success of Blade for New Line Cinema, X-Men with Fox Studio’s and Sony’s Spider-Man movies proved there was a market for quality comic book movies that snowballed into the MCU, and who knows where that will take us? Excelsior!

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The beginning of the end is near.  The next movie in the MCU, Avengers: Infinity War is less than a month away.  That will just leave Ant-Man and the Wasp, Captain Marvel (a prequel to existing films rather than a continuation), and then an as yet untitled Avengers film, with it Phase Three will be over.  And with the end of Phase Three we will potentially see the end of some of the characters.  It has been reported that the following actors intend to hang-up their super hero costumes next year: Chris Evans (Steve Rogers aka Captain America), Robert Downey Jr. (Tony Stark aka Iron Man), Chris Hemsworth (Thor). Chris Evans Robert Downey Jr Chris Hemsworth

This will leave just Tom Holland (Peter Parker aka Spider-Man), and Chadwick Boseman (T’Challa aka Black Panther) as the only remaining Avengers deemed significant enough to have their own films.  They will be joined by any surviving cast.  They can’t simply recast, this will be conspicuous at best, disastrous at worst.  There is another answer within the existing cast: Natalie Portman (Jane Foster), Sebastian Stan (Bucky Barnes aka The Winter Soldier aka White Wolf), Don Cheadle (Lieutenant James Rhodes aka War Machine).Natalie Portman Sebastian Stan Don Cheadle

In the comic books on which the MCU is based, these characters have all taken on the part of other heroes: Bucky Barnes – Captain America, James Rhodes – Iron Man, Jane Foster – Thor. Bucky Barnes Captain America Don Cheadle Iron Man Jane Foster Thor

There have been many other incarnations of the comic books where existing characters have taken on the mantle of other heroes, they include Sam Wilson aka Falcon as Captain America and Natasha Romanoff aka Black Widow as Thor. Sam Wilson Captain America and Natasha Romanoff Thor

You may remember the scene in Avengers: Age of Ultron when the Avengers take it in turns to try and lift Mjolnir, all except  Black Widow, should this tell us something?

Having said all this, they could just introduce some new characters! 

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Justice lugues posterI drove past a billboard displaying a massive Justice League poster the other day.  The notable thing about, only one woman.  But given the fact the one woman was Gal Gadot, who with Wonder Woman is the only person on the poster to have a decent movie in DC’s current run of super heroes.  Not to say all the recent DC movies were disaster: The various Batman and Superman movies have made good money.  The Suicide Squad was a mess but it had some good elements (Margot Robbie and Will Smith).  My first thought was the big topic this year, not only have DC given a female character her own story, but it’s the best film they have made so far in the series that appears to be trying emulate the recent success of the MCU.  Marvel are seventeen movies in and still haven’t given a woman her own movie.  As it stands that will come in 2019 with Captain Marvel.  That will appear somewhere between the two Infinity war movies, the second of which will mark the end of Phase Three.  What will Phase Four bring us?  many have speculated that it will be a re-boot; others believe it will be a continuation of the franchise, but without the main characters from the earlier phases (Iron Man, Thor, Hulk).  This suggest suggests an end to fan hopes of a Natasha Romanoff / Black Widow standalone movie.

 

wonder woman

However there is one film series that has had something approaching equality in its characters, the X-Men.  Despite being called Men, the movies and the comics feature a healthy mix of both genders as well as a subtext of equality.  As with the comic books on which they are based, Logan/Wolverine became an instant fans favourite, thanks in no small part to the brilliant casting of Hugh Jackman. Rogue (Anna Paquin), was introduced to the X-Men at the same time as Logan and in many ways was the main character of the first film in 2000.  Of the existing team, outside of Patrick Stewart’s Professor Charles Xavier, the most memorable characters were Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) and Ororo Munroe / Storm (Halle Berry).  In fairness depending on your point of view Halle Berry was either miscast or misunderstood.  I’m not convinced director Bryan Singer knew what to do with the character.  Of Magneto’s (Ian McKellen) villains, Mystique (Rebecca Romijn-Stamos) was by far the most interesting and became a mainstay of the series.  When Matthew Vaughn rebooted the franchise in 2011 with X-Men: First Class he cast Jennifer Lawrence just as she was about to become one of the biggest stars in the world, ensuring the already interesting character a higher profile.  She continues to be one of the most interesting characters in the franchise.X-Women

 

X-Men: Apocalypse (2016) was a disaster and made a mess of another fan favourite character Psylocke, I couldn’t tell you how good or bad Olivia Munn was in the part, as she wasn’t given much of a chance to do anything.  The film did however introduce Alexandra Shipp and Sophie Turner (best known for Game of Thrones) as Jean Grey and Ororo Munroe / Storm respectively.  They were far better handled, and have led to the next film X-Men: Dark Phoenix (2018).  Dark Phoenix, is one of the big story arcs in the comic books and a theme that was touched upon on the second and third installments of the movie franchise.

Finally we have the best comic book movie of the year, Logan.  Including an uncredited cameo in X-Men: First Class, Hugh Jackman has appeared in every X-Men movie to date.  His tenth and final appearance came earlier this year, in the brilliant Logan.   His co-star was eleven year old Dafne Keen as Laura / X-23 a child cloned from Logan.  The character was as much the star of the film as Jackman’s Logan, and seminal to the plot.  There have been suggestions of bringing the character into the X-Men movie (who gave up on continuity long ago).  There have also been a far more interesting suggestion of her own stand alone movie following on from Logan.  It isn’t clear if this would be involve recasting to portray a grown up version of the character or continue with Keen who would be a young teenager by that time.  Either option has merit, the inclusion of Logan director James Mangold would be a welcome addition.Logan

So while we are bemoaning the lack of a female lead in Marvel movies or celebrating the success of Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman (and its announced sequel), just remember that X-Men have been around on the big screen since the turn of the millennium and aren’t doing a bad job, some of the films even pass the (flawed) The Bechdel test!

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With Mixed reviews, you may be wondering if The Defenders is worth watching.  The Simple answer if you have seen and enjoyed any of The other Marvel TV shows, yes, if you haven’t, No.  This doesn’t stop me expressing my thoughts: 

Story: If you are reading this, you probably already know all you need to know; the stars of their respective shows: Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist team up to fight The Hand in New York. Although not the best story we have seen so far in Marvels TV universe, it is probably the most focused.  The meeting of the quartet is less forced than it could have been.  The villains are believable with coherent motives.   After a little build up and a brief introduction of the characters for the uninitiated, the action kicks in and doesn’t really stop.  Each ending on note that strikes the perfect balance between narrative closer and making you want to watch, just one more episode, it is the closest Marvel have come to recreating for the screen what it is to read a comic book; but its on Netflix so you don’t have to wait a week for the next part!  The Defenders

Main Characters: All four characters are archetypes and this is exacerbated by the scenario, they each become an even more extreme example of who they are.  The story does play a little on their individual abilities and character traits, but not as much as you would expect.

Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter): remains the best character. The cynical, hard drinking private detective is possibly the most clichéd of the characters but Ritter pulls it off with such charisma and fun that it really doesn’t matter.  It is like she is in a different show to the others, but in a good way.

Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox): A great charter in his own show; dramatically, he shrinks a little in the presence of the others, he does have some great dialogue with Ritter, and some of the best fight scenes.  Daredevil is a more interesting character the angst/catholic guilt ridden Matt Murdock.

Luke Cage (Mike Colter): The boy scout of the crew, Luke Cage can’t help but do the right thing regardless of personal consequences, the Captain America of the group.

Danny Rand (Finn Jones): The weakest link from their own shoes, Iron Fist has the most significant role within the plot.  The billionaire needs to be a little more fun, a little more Tony Stark.   Defenders

Secondary Characters: Most of the secondary characters have already been seen in the individual shows.  While a few of these characters have previously been the most interesting and compelling characters in the shows, they are largely sidelined here to make space for the leads:

Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson): The MVP of the individual shows isn’t given anything to do, but is as great as you would expect with the little she has to do.

Foggy Nelson (Elden Henson): The weakest character in the show has one perfunctory role within the plot.

Misty Knight (Simone Missick): Joins up a few tots in the plot and provides a little sass. We also get a hint at where her character is going.

Colleen Wing (Jessica Henwick): Has her moments in the latter episodes but is largely sidelined.

Stick (Scott Glenn): Given the dual role of (deadpan) comic relief and Basil Exposition Glenn performs admirably.

Trish Walker (Rachael Taylor): Has one interesting scene and does nothing else.

Karen Page (Deborah Ann Woll): Given precisely nothing to do, the character could have been totally dropped without any real impact on the plot. The Defenders Secondary Characters

Villains: We have already seen The Hand in Iron Fist and Daredevil, now they are out of the shadows, front and centre with an agenda.

Alexandra Reid (Sigourney Weaver): Ever wondered who is in charge of The Hand? Sigourney Weaver leaves us in no doubt, Alexandra Reid is the epitome of the Alpha Dog, Weaver plays her with determination, but also in a believable way.

Elektra Natchios (Elodie Yung): Brought back from the dead, Elektra provides both the antagonist and strangely some of the heart of the show.  As you would expect, she also gets a lot of the best action.

The five “fingers” of the Hand also include Madame Gao (Wai Ching Ho) reprising her role, and Bakuto (Ramón Rodríguez) who we met in Iron Fist as Wing’s former sensei. The Hand

Conclusion: The show has its issues but with a punchy high action plot it is compelling and binge worthy in the way Netflix must have hoped.  In keeping the characteristics of the individual characters undiluted the show can still work for an audience that hasn’t seen, or doesn’t like all the previous shows.  This takes us back to the beginning; if you have enjoyed any of The other Marvel TV shows, you will probably like this. 

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In a very meta moment in X-Men Apocalypse, a group of young X-Men walk out of a screening of Return Of The Jedi (we are now in the 1980’s) discussing if Star Wars or Empire Strikes back is the better movie.  Jean Grey (now played by Sophie Turner replacing Famke Janssen) ends the conversation “At Least We Can All Agree The Third One Is Always The Worst”.  Probably intended as joke/stab at the woeful X-Men: The Last Stand (2006),  it turns out to be even more meta than intended as the comment is also true of the movie in which they are in.  X-Men Apocalypse is the third instalment of the rebooted X-Men franchise that began with X-Men: First Class in 2011 and by far the weakest. x-men-apoc-ukposterbanner-01

For those that don’t remember X-Men came out in 2000, directed by Bryan Singer.  By the standards of modern comic book movies it was relatively low budget, something that does show looking back now.  It is a solid film with good characters, well cast.  Singer followed it up three years later with X2, a bigger and better movie.  Singer then made the unwise choice to walk away in favour of Superman Returns (2006) leaving Brett Ratner to make the aforementioned X-Men: The Last Stand (2006).  Killing off a couple of main characters and possibly the franchise with it.  The stand alone X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009) did nothing to give any hope for the franchise.  Then out of the blue Matthew Vaughn gave us X-Men: First Class, effectively an origin story.  Written by Jane Goldman the film did everything you would expect from an X-Men movie and coupled it with a 1960’s setting.  Set against the backdrop of the Cuban missile crisis it most of the setting.   Bryan Singer then returned in 2014 with X-Men: Days of Future Past.  Combining the cast of the original trilogy and the reboot, the film based on one of the comics most beloved stories.  Possibly the best X-Men movie.X Men

So where did they go wrong?  The biggest problem with the film is the story.  It loses most of its depth by not involving any of the politics of the time.  The film also seems to be made up of just two parts, the first half the film is setup, the second a huge battle filled with colossal destruction.  The problem could be the lack of Jane Goldman as a writer.  The movie also suffers from a lack of a credible villain.  While Apocalypse is often considered the great X-Men adversary in the comic books, he doesn’t translate well to the screen.  His abilities seem to range from all-powerful to underwhelming from scene to scene.  His motivation is never explained.

Then we come to the other misused characters.  Cashing in on the popularity of Jennifer Lawrence, Mystique is set up as the franchises greatest hero, something akin to Wolverine in the original trilogy. She plays it with an unbelievably dour tone, think Katniss but blue.  It made me miss Rebecca Romijn’s coldblooded killer interpretation of the character.  They clearly didn’t know how to handle Evan Peters’ Quicksilver, so basically rehashed what we saw him do in Days Of Future Past, it isn’t bad but it gets tiered very quickly.  Angel is better than in The Last Stand but still an ineffective screen character.  Psylocke gets some good action scenes but mothering dramatic to do.  Her costume is interesting.  Where Bryan Singer has only ever hinted at the characters comic book looks, Psylocke is taken straight from the pages of a comic book, or at least a cosplay interpretation from a comic book convention. It isn’t necessary wrong, it is just distracting.psylocke

It isn’t all bad, Sophie Turner isn’t bad as Jean Grey but lacks both the depth and intensity of Famke Janssen.  Tye Sheridan and Kodi Smit-McPhee are both good as Cyclops and Nightcrawler respectively. Alexandra Shipp is good as Storm but could have done with more to do.

Better than The Last Stand, but certainly the weakest of the prequels.  The next X-Men movie is the as yet untitled Wolverine movie.  Production started last month with a release date pencilled in for early next year.  It will be the third Wolverine movie and potentially the last to star Hugh Jackman.  Lets hope they buck the trend and the third one isn’t the worst!

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It was a brave move for Marvel to reboot Daredevil as a TV show rather than a movie, but having just binge watched the second series it is increasingly looking like a good one.  A few years ago the idea of a studio relegating one of its major properties to the small screen would have been unthinkable.  The newly found status of TV helps but on its own isn’t enough for the gamble to pay off, the content has to be good too.  A point proven by the fact that I gave up on Gotham and The Arrow after a few episodes each and haven’t seen any of the other DC, TV shows. The ongoing sagas of comic books do lend themselves to TV but there is something else.  Daredevil is a better fit for TV than film.  Where The Avengers work on a global scale Daredevil and his alter ego, Matt Murdock are firmly rooted in their Hell’s Kitchen home.  This is problem that DC are going to have to contend with as they move Batman out of Gotham and  into the world of the Justice League.daredevil

With a far darker tone than Agents of Shield and Agent Carter the series exists on the edge of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and is the better for it.  The beauty of its execution, there is no need to see any other MCU property to make sense of it, and likewise, you don’t need to see it to complete the story told in the movies.  Like the rest of the universe the odds have gone up as time has gone on.  Although there hints a bigger story in season one, Wilson Fisk (Vincent D’Onofrio) was largely a local villain.  Season two moves things onto a whole new level, introducing an outside threat.  It is however careful with its introduction of new characters.  Elektra Natchios (Elodie Yung) and Frank Castle aka The Punisher (Jon Bernthal) are the most notable additions.elektra

We know that The Defenders is on its way, a new series where Daredevil will hook-up with Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and the yet to be introduced Iron Fist.  To its credit, Daredevil resists the temptation of introducing the new characters.  The only overlap being a cameo from Jeri Hogarth (Carrie-Anne Moss) from Jessica Jones and Rosario Dawson’s Claire Temple who has appeared in both shows.  Elektra and The Punisher are better served than in any of their big screen outings with real motivations.  The plot is well served giving character arc’s for all the main protagonists, both new and old.  The new story both is tied up nicely and left open for future development.The Punisher

TV will never replace cinema for me and I still expect to see the bigger stories on the big screen but some stories belong on TV, and good TV is better than second rate movies. 

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A few years ago I wrote about The Dark Knight Returns and how a previous Batman could return to reprise the role of batman. This type of role is unusual if not unique. Can you imagine an old superman or Spider-Man? But one other comic book character does have a literary source for an older version of the character coming out of retirement, Wolverine.the dark knight returns

Wolverine: Old Man Logan was an eight-issue storyline from writer Mark Millar and artist Steve McNiven, published by between June 2008 and September 2009.  Set in an alternate universe over fifty years in the future (designated as Earth-807128).  A dystopian future where super heroes have been destroyed and the United States is divided five territories ruled by super villains.  Logan, who has long since given up the Wolverine persona for reasons that become clear in flashback, lives in the territory known as “Hulkland”.  The territory originally belonged to The Abomination and later conquered by the Hulk is now run by his the incestuous hillbilly grandchildren.old man logan

Hugh Jackman has hinted that Old Man Logan is the basis for the third and final Wolverine solo film, but has since suggested that this isn’t true.  If true, this would leave the door open for Jackman to reprise the role for at least the next twenty years.  It is common for actors to return to the parts that made them successful (Vin Diesel retuning to both Xander Cage and Riddick, Matt Damon coming back for a fourth The Bourne and Arnold Schwarzenegger returning to both The Terminator and Conan.), but it is rare for an opportunity to present itself so easily.arnold schwarzenegger terminator genisys

Jackman’s Wolverine has been a fans favourite since the first X Men movie fifteen years ago.  As good as Jackman is, it isn’t all about him, Wolverine has always been a fans favourite in the comic books too.  So as X-Men Apocalypse that he may or may not be in sees the end of a second trilogy, a reboot, or at least a recasting could be on the cards. Jackman will be a hard act to follow as he has become so iconic in the part (despite being a foot taller than the character in the comic books).  The perfect time for Jackman to reprise his role would be after another character had either failed or had completed a successful run and everyone is debating who will take over the part.The Wolverine

This all assumes there will still be a market for comic book movies in a decade or more.

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